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WWII veteran honored by French government at ceremony in Newington

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NEWINGTON -- A World War II veteran was honored for his role in liberating France in the 1940s. The French government surprised him with their top honor at a ceremony at the Cedar Mountain Commons Senior Homes in Newington Friday.

It’s no secret that the Greatest Generation, World War II veterans, keep the details of their days in the war to themselves. When they do talk, they downplay their roles in taking down Nazi Germany as ordinary jobs a soldier was expected to do.

"From what I remember, what he told me, he was responsible for maintaining the engines on the aircraft," says Tom Faenza, award recipient John Faenza's son.

Oftentimes the truth in their service is much more extraordinary.

"His job was to fly into enemy territory while they were receiving flack and be successful in the mission and come back," says Wayne Rioux, Hartford Healthcare at Home's Veteran's Liason. It's his job to find veterans and get them the benefits they deserve for their service. He meets with almost 500 veterans a month.

74 years after his service in France ended, the French government awarded Sergeant John Faenza with the Knight of Legion of Honor Medal.

"So, Mr. Faenza," said the Consul General of France, Anne-Claire Legendre, at the ceremony. "On behalf of the government of France and of the people of France, I’m here to express our deepest gratitude for the risk that you took in the sacrifice that you were willing to make to liberate my country."

The Knight of Legion of Honor Medal is France’s highest award. For a United States citizen to be awarded it is pretty special. What makes it even more special is John had no idea it was coming.

"I’m speechless," says the former US Army Sergeant. "It’s a big surprise, especially to have my family here with me. I didn’t expect this, but it’s an honor and I appreciate it very much."

Dignitaries from across the state, including Hartford Police, joined the French Consul General in handing out Faenza’s awards. He was an officer in Hartford for 30 years after coming home from the war.

"He was very loyal and really served our country," says Faenza's daughter, Cathy Melewski. "My father spent most of his life in service one way or another."

At 93, Sergeant Faenza is being recognized by not only the country he fought for, but the country he fought in.

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